Breastfeeding Takes A Community

On August 1, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) kicked off World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month with a clear message: “Breastfeeding is not a one-woman job.”

At Project Concern International (PCI), that sentiment has long been echoed in both the organization’s policies and programs, which seek to create a culture of support around this healthy practice. In fact, the San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition (SDCBC) recently honored PCI with the 2017 SDCBC Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace Award.

“We were simply blown away by what [PCI] is doing to make a difference in the lives of your breastfeeding/pumping employees and for our community overall,” said Heidi Burke-Pevney, Executive Director of SDCBC.

PCI partnered with the University of California in San Diego’s Lactation Supportive Environments project to ensure employees have access to mothers’ rooms that meet the highest standards. In addition to creating comfortable spaces where PCI staff members and program participants can breastfeed or pump in private, PCI also made the mother’s room at its City Heights office available to other businesses and organizations in the same building.

“Thanks to this room, I was able to continue breastfeeding my second child until he turned 1 year old. There was a comfortable chair to sit in, a door that locked and extra supplies like milk storage bags and breast pads” said Lisa Bain, Deputy Director of PCI’s U.S. & Border Programs. “At my last workplace, I had the choice of using a stall in a shared bathroom, my car or a desk hidden behind a folding screen.”

For the past year, PCI has also partnered with the San Diego Breastfeeding Center (SDBFC) Foundation to draw attention to the shortage of quality lactation supports in the low-income communities where PCI works, particularly the lack of bilingual lactation educators and counselors.

In 2016, the SDBFC Foundation provided training for 10 bilingual community health workers from PCI’s Healthy Start program to become lactation educators. This collaboration also led to the creation of a weekly bilingual breastfeeding support group at PCI’s office in City Heights.

“I frequently use the lactation room to meet with our clients,” said Lily Chousa, a patient navigator and lactation educator for PCI’s Healthy Start program. “It is a safe, warm space where mothers can feel free to nurse their babies in private and a relaxed environment where they can enjoy every moment. They can also access breastfeeding information, including the protections breastfeeding mothers have in the workplace under federal and state laws.”

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding from birth until 6 months old for babies to get the best start in life. Breast milk contains the ideal amount of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antibodies needed for healthy growth and brain development. Benefits include protection from respiratory infections, diarrhea and other life-threatening ailments. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers, as it reduces risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and post-partum depression.

According to Bain, 96% of the moms who participate in PCI’s Healthy Start program initiate breastfeeding and 77% are still breastfeeding 6 months later. This compares to 79% and 49% national averages.

PCI is also currently building a partnership with local researchers and the nonprofit Nurturely to better understand the connections between physical contact, maternal responsiveness to hunger cues, and breastfeeding duration among Healthy Start participants. For more information on PCI’s programs in San Diego and the US-Mexico border region, visit www.pciglobal.org/us.